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Wedding dowries or known as Hantaran in Malay culture is expressed as a symbol, a gift from the bride or a groom to their partners before a solemnization or an engagement in Malay weddings. Often to express gratitude, or to show their sacrifice and willingness to their partner, could also be a way to express wealth. A forgotten Malay culture is reviving because of an idea two close friends thought of during their wedding preparations. Meet Billa and Syaza. Two bubbly best mates whose efforts to make an old culture hip again.

Nabilah or Billa, a full-time make-up artist as her profession, thought of Hidden Hantaran as a side project. She’s also an old-furniture scout. Her friend, Syaza, her business partner, is an antique aficionado. All Billa wanted was an old retro style wedding, and the way she can demonstrate it is by wrapping her dowries. They thought of it as a dying art that needs its mojo back from the heydays of the olden days our parents used to when they got married. Both deemed wrapping dowries is a dying art in a culture of flaunts and excessive displays now dominate the wedding industry in Malaysia.

The idea of Hidden Hantaran started when Billa was about to wed. She wanted to cut down the costs on unnecessary things as it is too costly and a financial burden. Here’s 5 things you should know about Hidden Hantaran.

1.  The Hidden Hantaran idea was actually a coincidence

An old picture of how Malay wedding dowries look like back in the old days
Credit: Insun Sony Mustapha Fenner

They didn’t hear it from anyone initially. It was just them thinking about, when they want to get married. There is an unhealthy culture that only in the past 20 years started occurring in Malay weddings which is judgmental observations especially by the elderly of what is gifted between the bride and groom during weddings. They are more interested in the content of the “hantarans” (dowries) and tend to gossip about it and it wasn’t a pleasant thing for them to hear. So, when Billa’s wedding was approaching, she felt that covering her dowries was the best to way to avoid unnecessary chatter at her own wedding. A year after (the wedding), they were on Facebook, then she saw a friend who shared a picture that they used for their hidden hantaran post. The last picture was by Mak Cik Insun (Insun Sony Mustafa Fenner). She shared a picture of her sister’s wedding, back in the old days between 1950 and 1960. It was wrapped with a white plain cloth. It was brilliant, thus flourished the idea of wanting to do the same thing for her wedding. Billa married last year in October, that’s when she did her hantaran. A month afterward, she posted some pictures of her wedding, including the hantaran. A lot of people were intrigued and were interested in that, but they didn’t take it seriously. Four months ago, Billa started working with Syaza. Syaza was the one who suggested “why don’t we do something that involves brides, since our business involves a lot of young families and young couples?”. It’s mostly within their demographic. While they were talking they stumbled upon the Hidden Hantaran idea again. They were both on board, and that’s how it started.

2.  The method of wrapping dowries was a Malay wedding culture

A picture circa 1980s, dowries were wrapped like birthday gifts.
Credit: @daisybiru (Twitter)

Syaza: I have always thought that the idea was kind of cultural, because I mainly saw it all my relatives’ weddings. Like I have said before, my parents’ wedding hantarans were all wrapped too. I guess, back in the day, people are very sensitive in taking care of someone’s feeling. Basically, when you put the hantaran in such a way, you don’t give people an excuse to talk about it.

To them, the hantaran is more personal because it comes from the heart, and it’s not something that you think will look nice on the tray. So, it can be like literally something as simple as a pan or something else. In the end, it’s between the bride and the groom, it depends on whatever you can afford and whatever you think you see fit, Therefore, it shouldn’t be discussed.

3.  You can use any type of cloth to your liking

Originally, they used simple cotton Batik because it is the easiest to fold. It also holds very well. It is also very nice because then you can give (these) to your relatives. Kain pelikat is for the more masculine look and more suitable for groom. It looks really nice as well. Usually Kain Batik and Kain Pelikat gives the nicest fabric because it is a bit solid. It has a traditional feel to it. If you want something that is more airy and softer, you can go for Organza. You can wrap whatever way you like, make flowers with the ends of the fabric and put dainty flowers. You can go for more retro kind of fabric like Casa Rubia for a see-through textural element that is not present in either Kain Pelikat, Batik or Organza. If you look through your grandmother’s pictures back in the day, I’m pretty sure they have something, or wear something like this. They showed us a sample of a dowry box using the Casa Rubia fabric, that they already did. The motifs are filled with flowery patterns with gold thread and a flower to finish it off. They love pretty things. They also love making ugly things pretty. Thus, they wrap their dowries using a method called Furoshiki. It is a Japanese technique of wrapping goods, as it is commonly used as a method to easily carry a good. What they are making is to ensure appearance of the goods more elegant and artistic, with colorful and beautiful fabric.

4.  It’s an alternative choice for dowry presentation

Modern hantaran often shown as a symbol of wealth

Malay dowries is a centuries old tradition. However, modern versions of dowries are often being presented as a display of wealth and expensive wedding gifts. You would see expensive jewelries, shoes and other luxury items. Thus, Hidden Hantaran provides an alternative to showing off, but keeping it a secret to other people. Syaza has long worked in the wedding industry and that’s why she realized there are a lot of things that can be cut down and are considered unnecessary for her, personally, because she is a very simple person. Since both of them have experiences in the Wedding Industry, they seem to know what is excessive, but acknowledging other people’s wedding preferences. Despite that, they are providing an alternative for those who don’t want to break their bank accounts with simple solutions.

5.  It is economically feasible

Since Billa have already experienced marriage, and both of them being in the bridal industry makes sense. Plus, they are into things that are a little bit different which makes having a list of clients and bride-to-be as followers a lot easier. A lot Syaza’s clients and followers are young couples, young girls who are at the age of planning to get married or just starting a family and have relatives.

For them, making the Hidden Hantaran is much more feasible than other ventures in the Bridal Industry at it requires more capital to invest.

It’s really cheap to make one and it is feasible for those who want to be frugal in their weddings. All you need is a box with a square surface, a nice fabric, and some decorations as finishing.  The costs their clients pay for their services vary from RM80 and RM150. It is also environmentally conscious because there is less wastage produced as customers may reuse the cloths for other purposes.

They believe that Hidden Hantaran is making a comeback. Adding some retro accessories like a preserved enamel tray, dated from the late 1960s, may make a good collection. Since their social media posts went viral, many gave good feedbacks and shown some photos of brides using their services. Despite that, the main concern any trends are they do die quickly, however, they are confident they will continue it as a culture. They liked promoting this idea and they are pretty assured it has commercial value.

You can find Syaza at @syazaofalltrades and Billa at @warnabilla on Instagram. They also have an online thrift store selling retro stuffs and redecorated old furniture at @rumabilla on Instagram.

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